An Anniversary of Sorts

Yesterday I purposefully didn’t write an entry in the morning. “I’ll write it at night, after I’ve had a day,” I thought. “That way I’ll have plenty to write about!” What I forgot is that I get up at 5:00 in the morning and by dinnertime, my brain is in the process of shutting off. Evening is not my friend when it comes to writing. So, today I’m back to writing in the morning.

I don’t know why I wake at 5:00. My only explanation is that is has to do with getting older. All I know is that when I wake at 5:00, bed doesn’t feel good anymore. I feel itchy and ready to get on with my day, so I do. I had been mostly using the hours between 5-7:15 to play on the internet, but this week I started using them to do my handwork instead. Doing handwork in the quiet of the early morning, accompanied only by a podcast or audiobook, is really a very pleasant and grounding way to start the day, I’m learning. I’m going to try to keep this new habit up.

This morning I finished up my ornament that I spent much of yesterday hemming. I finished up the stitching, and then gave everything a good press with the new iron. I will sheepishly admit that I am officially now a person who has Opinions about irons, and that my new one is about a thousand time better than my old one. Positively a pleasure to use. A little thrilling even. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone I said so. The ornament is now resting beneath a pile of heavy books to flatten out the buckram that is inside of it, and then next week I’ll send it to a loved one who, I think, will appreciate it a lot. The design is an Orthodox cross, which is normally very much not my kind of thing to stitch, but I think its recipient will like it a lot.

It is sort of my two-year anniversary of getting onto the path of this stitching and sewing thing. Two years ago today I posted on Facebook that I’d read an article in Slate about latch hooking rugs, and how it was the perfect pandemic hobby, and I’d ordered a kit. (Note: turns out I really hated latch hooking rugs.) Friends posted in the comments that I might like cross stitch too, which led me to finding Avlea Folk Embroidery on Etsy. And the rest is history. I now have been embroidering and cross stitching Avlea designs for a couple years, though it only really ramped up a year ago, and hand stitching a pillow inspired me to look into getting a sewing machine and here I am now. Talking about my new iron and waking at five to stitch buckram into a silk lining. I realize my new interests make me sound like I’m 80, but they bring me so much joy I don’t really care.

Hemming with Cat

I spent much of the day hemming a little cross stitch that will eventually become an ornament. It was careful, pleasant, soothing work. I love the feeling of sitting down and immersing myself in the needle and thread. Now I’m too tired to write a proper entry, so I’ll just mark the day with a picture of me stitching over the body of a very happy, very smug cat.

On Overlockers and Fun

Overlocker is actually the British word for the thing. Here in the USA we call them sergers. But I dislike the word serger. It feels squishy and hissy in my mouth, and it doesn’t really describe what the thing does. In contrast, overlocker is a nice word with corners to it, and it handily describes what the thing does –it locks threads over a seam.

I got my overlocker a couple months ago. I decided I needed one to finish off my seams in my sewing and to sew knits with as well. I knew to get something fairly new. Even the nutty vintage sewing machine people who will tell you all modern sewing machines are junk, even they will tell you to stay away from vintage overlockers. Buy new, they’ll tell you, and get the priciest one you can afford. I listened to this advice, somewhat. My overlocker is on the newer side compared to my sewing machines and it is a well-regarded brand, a Babylock. I did buy it used through Marketplace, but its previous owner assures me she had it serviced every year at a local Babylock dealer. I paid her cash for it, and it was cheap compared to what a new Babylock overlocker would be, but more than I paid for my Singer 66 a couple weeks ago.

Once I bought the overlocker, I brought it home and it sat on the dresser in the guest room. It sat there unused for the good six weeks. The thing had four threads! Two needles and two loopers! And a knife! I was scared of it. So I let it sit there, and it helped that my sewing project had Hong Kong bound seams that didn’t need an overlocker anyway. But then a couple weeks ago I saw someone recommend an online overlocker course for complete beginners, and on a whim I bought the course and started watching its videos.

Before I knew it, I’d pulled the overlocker off the dresser and set it up at the table, and I tried overlocking my first scrap of fabric. I think I may have actually screamed when I did. As a podcast I heard recently said, “Overlocking is like sewing, but faster and with knives.” It was a scream of delight though. What fun. My husband and son came in and watched me use the thing with something approaching awe. They saw it too. This thing was powerful, fun, and a little scary. My son requested and received one of my scraps of overlocked fabric.

Today I pulled the overlocker out again. This time because I needed to prewash some fabric for a project I’m going to work on this weekend, and before you prewash fabric, it is best to bind the raw edges so it doesn’t unravel on you. So, I sat down with my unwashed fabric, I overlocked the edges, and now it is in washing machine. It all sounds very simple, but I got that same thrilling rush from using the overlocker that I did the first time. That thing is fun! I may barely know how to use it (it came already threaded), but I am enjoying the hell out of it.

That’s the real secret to why I’ve become so obsessed with my stitching, sewing, and related sewing machine activities. Because I find them all fun. I’m having so much fun with all of this. The past few years, they haven’t been that fun for anyone. So I’ve grabbed onto this bit of fun and I’m seeing how far it will take me.

Errands and De-Fluffing

I spent the morning today doing errands. First, I brought my kid’s lunch to school because he forgot it. Then I headed up to a local toy store in the North Valley to pick up an order. This toy store has been supplying me with Santa’s stocking stuffers for my kid’s stocking each Christmas for the past five years. They used to be a pop-up shop that was open for just a few months, but they recently opened a year-round location. At 10.5, my kid is mostly too old for a lot of the stuff in the shop, but I still found some cool things for his stocking. Now, the toy store’s new location is across the street from an excellent bakery, so of course I stopped in there and got a loaf of whole wheat bread and a couple green chile cheddar biscuits. I just had my biscuit with tea.

It was a pleasant morning of errands, and they felt novel because we’ve been so locked down for so long. It is only fairly recently that I’m willing to mask up and go inside a store. We’ve been doing most of our shopping by delivery, and still are. But I’m willing to go into some locally owned places while wearing a mask to pick up things for the holidays. Last week I visited a local candy shop and stocked up on the traditional Christmas candy. Today, I did the toy store. Tomorrow, okay, this isn’t locally owned, I think I’ll go early as I can to Trader Joe’s and pick up some frozen meals and peppermint sandwich cookies.

This afternoon I plan to de-fluff and possibly also oil my Singer 221. It is full of pink lint from my jacket project, and desperately needs some oil. I’ve got plans to sew all afternoon on Saturday. (Muna and Broad is having an apron-making workshop! Come join me!) So, my trusty machine needs to be in top shape by then.

Life is pretty good lately. There are multiple pleasant and productive ways to spend my time, and I’m getting a lot of joy from all of them. I feel lucky, and know I’m privileged. It helps too that my little family here is currently in a good place. We are good right now at being together, and being happy. I’m thankful.


I’m making some plans for this coming week, some tinkering plans. My Singer 221 got kind of clanky by the end of my jacket project. Clearly it needs some spa time, with a good cleaning and oiling. Then I’ll clean and oil the Singer 66, which will be fun as I have yet to do anything to the machine but admire it. I then plan to install a new treadle belt and start the process of teaching myself to use the thing. I’ve read that using a treadle is a lot like driving stick. I’m terrible at driving stick, so this should be interesting. But I’m looking forward to trying.

Honestly, if I never get the hang of it, that will be okay. I’ll be happy enough to admire the machine and keep it polished. It is a thing of beauty and just looking at it makes me happy. But hopefully I’ll get the hang of treadling and, oh, you will be able to hear my squeals of delight for blocks when I do. I love the idea of actually sewing on that beautiful machine. I love the thought of operating it entirely under my own power — no electricity. I’ve been reading about how to treadle and watching videos, and I feel reasonably ready to go it a go. I’ll start without any thread and just a piece of paper, to see if I can get the hang of making the wheel spin in the proper direction. Then if all goes well, next week I’ll sew Eric some curtains for his home office.

I got a rubber belt for the 66 instead of the classic leather one. I read that the Amish use the rubber belts on their machines because they are less likely to slip. I figured they know, since they must actually use the machines for necessity and not just for fun, so I ordered one. I’d like my machine to be practical as well as beautiful.

I also plan to use the overlocker again towards the end of the week. I’m doing an online apron sewing workshop on Saturday, and so before then I need to overlock the raw edges of my fabric and give it a prewash. More good fun. I used the overlocker for the first time a little over a week ago and that had me laughing like a kid as the FOUR threads did their thing. I think maybe I am a little ridiculous, but I’m having so much fun I don’t care.

The Gift

I got a little emotional as I finished my jacket up yesterday. I sewed most of it on my 1941 Singer 221, which is the machine I have been teaching myself to sew on. But I finished up the cuffs on the Singer Stylist from the 70s which I inherited from my late mother-in-law. The Stylist has a free arm base, so it was much better for sewing up the cuffs. As I sewed on the machine, I thought about my mother-in-law, wishing she were still here and could give me advice about my sewing, and about anything else too. I thought about all the things she made on the machine, and I felt connected, and sad she was gone. She died this month three years ago, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot, and I know my husband has been too.

I think part of what I love about vintage machines is their sense of history. People have been sewing on them for a long time. I don’t know the history of my 1941 machine, but I can feel it when I sew a seam on it. So many people who have used it before me. And I do know something of the history of the Stylist, as my mother-in-law was its only owner.  My husband says he mostly remembers her sewing on a much older machine when he was young. She made clothes for him and his sister. This one must have been her modern upgrade. I don’t know how often she used it, as not long after she purchased it, I think she must have gone back to graduate school for her PhD and then after that she was a chemistry professor. But she kept the machine in good condition, and I’m sure she used it for little repair jobs, even if she didn’t sew full garments on it often. I can feel her presence when I use it, and that is a gift.

My husband says when he walks through the guest room and sees his mother’s machine, it makes him smile. That reason alone would be enough to give it its pride of place in the guest room. But it is also a good zig zagger, and a free arm machine, and it looks like a 70’s station wagon, and those are good reasons for its place as well. The Singer 221 lives on the tall dresser in that room when it isn’t being used, and it looks handsome in its place. It makes me smile when I see it, as I think of how I’ve learned to use it over the past months. How I can now wind a bobbin, thread the machine, and clear a thread jam, all without referring to the manual or to a YouTube tutorial. And how I’ve used it to make a garment that makes me feel like me. I see it, and I think, “Yes, that’s something I’d enjoy wearing.” And I do.

Early Morning

In the past year, I seem to have lost my ability to sleep in. It isn’t a big deal. I can still get to sleep at night, and sleep through the night, but once morning hits, I’m awake, even if it is 5:00 a.m. This is a little ironic because my baby and then kid used to rise at 5:00 every day, and I complained about it mightily. Now that he reliably sleeps as late as he is able, I wake myself at 5:00. Life is different now then it was when I was up with a 2 year old at 5:00 though. Back then, there were no quiet moments. I was parenting from the moment my eyes opened. Now, I pad out to the living area, make the pot of coffee, prepare a little breakfast, and quietly read the internet by myself. On a good morning like today, where there is no pressing schedule, I then retired to my leather chair with my stitching.

For a good two hours this morning, I stitched on my cushion project and semi-watched Bernadette Banner videos. The cats curled up near me. Bernadette’s voice was soothing and informative. My stitching was relaxing and beautiful. I didn’t need to prepare to make anyone else’s breakfast or pack a lunch. It was just the perfect way to start a Saturday. Grounding and soothing.

Later today I plan to finish my jacket project (hurrah!), then I’ll start doing some getting-ready-for-the-cleaner tasks, and finally if the weather cooperates we’ll all go to the Twinkle Light Parade together and watch twinkle lights go on by (I guess. We’ve never gone to this parade before). It will hopefully be a quiet and lovely Saturday. I’m looking forward to it, and I don’t mind one bit that the day started at 5:00.

Beautiful Machines

I’ve become a little obsessed with vintage sewing machines. I love them. There are sewing machines out there covered in gorgeous decals that are 100 years old and yet STILL WORK. They are simple enough that a regular person armed with a screwdriver and some high-quality sewing machine oil can take care of them and keep them running. And the machines were mass produced enough, and are unpopular enough, that many can be purchased for not that much money. Singer Featherweights, which was my first machine that I bought back in May, those are popular with the quilting crowd and can run over a thousand dollars. But pretty much anything else can often be purchased for under 100 dollars, maybe a little more if it comes with a nice wooden cabinet. Honestly, if I’d known then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have gotten my beloved Featherweight and would have stuck to less popular models.

I’ve learned a lot since May. I lurk on several vintage sewing machine groups, poke around the internet for blogs and videos, and generally research sewing machines like they are the new special interest of mine that they are. I’ve already got three sewing machines and one overlocker, too. There is the 1941 Singer Featherweight, which is the machine I use the most. Then in July I inherited my late mother-in-law’s Singer Stylist from the 70s. I took it into a shop and had it tuned up, and now it is my trusty zig zag machine. The overlocker is a relatively newer machine that I bought over Marketplace from a local sewist who had upgraded to a fancier model. (Even in the vintage sewing machine forums, people will tell you to stay away from vintage overlockers.) My last machine I’ve only had for a couple weeks, and I’m so in love.

It is a Singer 66 treadle machine from 1923 with Red Eye decals in near pristine condition. It was made May 28th, 1923 to be exact and I am already planning to throw it a 100th birthday party when the time comes. I got it off Marketplace too, from a woman who got it as a gift in high school. She assured me it still sews, and that she sewed on it for years. I haven’t tried sewing on it yet. Instead it lives in our dining area and looks gorgeous, and I admire and pet it many times a day. Once I finish my current jacket project, I plan to clean and oil the 66 and learn how to use a treadle. Tentatively, I plan to sew up some new curtains for my husband’s home office on it. (The curtain plan is firm, but I reserve the right to chicken out and sew them on the Featherweight instead.) This machine, it has brought me so much joy. I’m not sure I can exactly explain how much, or why.

I paid 150 dollars for it, cash, which seems a ridiculously low price for so much joy. Back 100 years ago, such a machine would have been a real reach for a middle class family. It would have been a necessity for most too. People sewed because they needed to back then. But it would have been expensive enough that most would have had to take out a loan to pay for it. The machines were durable and beautiful, in part because they were so expensive and because they generally lived in people’s main living spaces. Singers became very popular not because they were the best, but because they were headed up by something of a marketing genius. The company invented the concept of buying something on layaway, and people would take home their new machine and then send a check to the Singer shop each month for years to come. I like to wonder about all the families that owned this machine before me. I like to think how beloved and admired and useful it has been for almost 100 years now.

Our new house only has so much space, and I’ve promised to stop acquiring machines for now. There are others I would like. In particular, I’d love to have another Singer machine with an original hand crank to power it. Or another treadle with a fiddle base from the 1800’s. Or one of the original all metal Singer zig zag machines instead of the Stylist I have now (which has plastic parts that will someday break and may not be replaceable).  Though my husband says seeing the Stylist each day makes him happy because it reminds him of his mom, so I’ll probably never actually replace it.

My little stable of four machines makes me happy. Each has a use and each is lovely in its own way. This past weekend I finally got up the nerve to practice on the overlocker, and, oh, that was fun. I’ll write more about that another day. For today, I’ll wrap this journal entry up, and get back to my jacket project, which I’m doing entirely on the Featherweight. The Featherweight is going to need a good cleaning and oiling once this project is finally done. I’m looking forward to the task.

No Words

I’ve been trying to sew myself a linen jacket. I’ve also been trying to learn to sew in little 1-3 hour chunks of time, instead of completing a garment in a four-day marathon. It is hard to find three to four days where all you can do is sew, so I figured I’d better learn how to fit the activity into my life in a different way. The result has been that I’ve now been working on this jacket for over a month. It is the project that will never end.

A lot of the issue is that I’m really slow. This is only the fourth garment I’ve sewn as an adult. I’m teaching myself how to do all of this with the help of YouTube videos and pattern instructions, and that means I don’t get much done in those 1-3 hour chunks of time. And this jacket has bias bound seams, so every seam takes a total of three passes. It is, I hope, going to look really cool and I think I’ll wear it often, but it is taking me forever.

I have a self-imposed deadline. I’d like to finish it up by the end of this coming Saturday. The cleaner comes on Monday, so Sunday will be spent tidying up clutter. That means all my sewing stuff will get put away on Sunday, and I know myself well enough to know that this will kill my momentum on the jacket project. It would be nice to just have the jacket done by then. Today there will be no time to sew, leaving Friday and Saturday to work. I think I can do it. Maybe.

Despite my frustration at this being the project that will never end, I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. Sewing still feels like magic to me. It is a thing I couldn’t do a year ago. A thing I never even daydreamed about doing a year ago. I’m 48, and it has been awhile since I tackled a new skill with so much history and knowledge behind it. It has been good. It has significantly improved my happiness levels.

It is of course a continuation of my attempt to fill my life with non-word-based activities. I realized at some point that everything I did was based on words. I was a writer, and for fun I read things. Too many words. My head got too full of words. My writing was drying up. So I took up embroidery, which led to cross stitch, which led to sewing, and now I do all three and I’m happier than I’ve been in a very long time. I haven’t given up on writing. My hope it that by filling up my batteries with all these not-words, the words will flow onto the page easier than they were before. It’s worth a shot anyway.

Along these lines, I’ve signed up to be a part of Holidailies this year, a project in which people with blogs commit to updating every day for the month of December. I’m going to do my best to post here every day this month. It will be a bit of a challenge, especially since I do not really talk about my kid and parenting here in this blog, and that is a thing that takes up a lot of my time and mental energy. Instead I’ll talk about my sewing, stitching, and writing. Probably some other stuff too.

I actually finished a project last night. I’m stitching up a little Baltic cross to make into an ornament and give to a loved one who will, I think, appreciate it. Last night I put the last stitch into the design. Next I need to finish it into an ornament, which I’ll get to right after I finish my jacket. It felt good to put that last stitch in yesterday. A little bit of beauty, done by me. No words.

In Which I Mostly Don’t Talk About Being Autistic

It has been a personally eventful month and I’m not going to write about most of it here. Mostly just stuff that rocked my little nuclear family, but that probably seems fairly small to anyone outside it. I will share that I’ve decided I’m probably autistic, as well as bipolar. It has been interesting, looking at my life through this new lens. It was all-consuming at first, but has now faded into a smaller hum in the background as I go about my business. You can’t think about your whole life through the lens of being autistic 24/7 indefinitely, you know?

I finished that mulberry dress I wrote about a little over a month ago, and have worn it joyfully several times since then. That was the last sewing project I’ve done. I’ve been daydreaming and planning for more projects, but the selfish pursuits part of the deal has mostly kept me away from the sewing machine. You see, Christmas is coming, and my other new hobby, stitching, is a thing that can be given to other people, so I’ve been spending more time doing that instead. I’ve finished a little pink and green design on a mat that I plan to give away, and I’m currently working on a small piece that I’ll finish into an ornament. It isn’t exactly a sacrifice, doing stitching instead of sewing. Both activities give me a lot of pleasure, both allow me to achieve that meditative flow state that I love so much. But I do want to at least make myself a bright pink open cardigan/jacket type garment before fall is over. Probably that will happen towards the end of October.

I also put my handwork skills to use repairing a pair of pants for my husband. His favorite pair of pants got a big rip in their front pocket from his keys a couple years ago, and he hadn’t worn them since. He brought them to me, and asked nicely if I could think of a way to mend them. I decided I could, and I made a little patch which I hand stitched into the inside of his pocket. It isn’t an invisible mend but it isn’t as visible as it could have been. I tried to convince him to let me use dark green thread, but he chose the more subdued grey that almost blends into the tan pants themselves. Doing the mending project brought me a surprising amount of pleasure, and now I smile to myself every time I see him wearing the pants, which happens a lot since they are his favorite pair.

That’s all for now. I’ll try to post here again before too long, maybe talk a little more about how I came to self-diagnose myself as being autistic. Or maybe I’ll just talk more about my stitching.